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Pig's liver keeps woman alive during donor search

Surgeons kept a dying young woman alive with the first implant ever of a pig's liver until a human organ was found for her Monday, a hospital said.

"The human liver will replace the pig's liver that has sustained her during the past 24 hours," Cedars-Sinai Medical Center spokesman Ron Wise said as transplant surgery was about to begin Monday evening. He said the human liver was flown to the medical center from Utah.

The patient, identified by hospital officials as Susan Fowler, 26, of Burbank, Calif., was rushed back into surgery late Monday to replace the animal organ with a human liver, said hospital spokesman Ronald Wise. The operation was expected to take most of the night.

Six surgeons implanted the pig's liver in the woman on Sunday in an eight-hour experimental operation. The woman's failed organ wasn't removed, Wise said, calling the procedure a "bridge technique" to keep the woman alive until a human liver was found.

"She tolerated the surgery well. The pig's liver is functioning in her," Wise said. "She would not have made it through last night if this surgery had not taken place."

The woman was comatose before the pig's liver was implanted and remained in critical condition afterward.

"Since it's the first time it's been done we're not sure how to characterize her state," Wise said. "She's not awake yet. But she has become increasingly stable. She was very unstable prior to the surgery."

A surgery support team of nearly 40 people assisted the six surgeons, who weren't identified.

The liver is a large organ with complex functions including cleansing the blood of poisons and waste, storing vitamins and minerals, manufacturing bile and forming urea.

The woman's liver began to give out last week, and a national search for a human liver was unsuccessful until after the pig's liver was implanted. The patient received medication to suppress her immune system to prevent rejection of the pig's liver.

The surgery was the second animal-to-human liver transplant this year. An unidentified 35-year-old man received a baboon liver in June at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. His hepatitis made a human organ transplant impossible. He died 10 weeks later.

_ Information from the Los Angeles Times was used in this report.